Delhi’s water augmentation plans fail to take off | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Delhi’s water augmentation plans fail to take off

Jun 03, 2024 05:56 AM IST

From creating a mega subsurface reservoir on the Palla floodplains to implementing the Singapore NEWater model to reclaim highly treated wastewater to quench Delhi’s thirst, several projects have failed to move beyond the pilot and planning stages

New Delhi

The water level at Yamuna has been below the usual availability over the last week of May in Delhi. (HT)
The water level at Yamuna has been below the usual availability over the last week of May in Delhi. (HT)

Delhi continues to be a water-stressed city every summer, exacerbated by a growing population amid limited water supply from the Yamuna, but progress on multiple projects conceived over the past seven years to boost water availability continues to trickle at a slow pace, according to the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) officials.

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From creating a mega subsurface reservoir on the Palla floodplains to implementing the Singapore NEWater model to reclaim highly treated wastewater to quench Delhi’s thirst, several projects have failed to move beyond the pilot and planning stages.

Delhi’s estimated demand for water is 1,290 million gallons per day (mgd), based on the estimate of providing at least 60 gallons of water per capita every day. The peak targeted water production, however, is 1,000mgd, which further dips in proportion with decreased Yamuna level and ammonia spikes due to industrial pollutants. Over the past week, Delhi has reported a 20-30mgd shortfall in its supply every day.

Former DJB vice-chairman and Malviya Nagar MLA Somnath Bharti posted on X: “as VC, of DJB I had requested LG many a times to speak to and facilitate with BJP governments of UP and Haryana to barter 140 MGD treated affluent of Okhla STP with UP and 80 MGD treated affluent of Rithala STPs with Haryana for equivalent raw water for our WTPs but it was laughed off. At present UP as well as Haryana rather than giving treated affluent for agricultural purposes give Ganga and Yamuna water to farmers... I say this with complete responsibility that all my requests were ignored and pushed Delhi to face this BJP made water crisis.”

Bharti was responding to a statement issued by LG VK Saxena that the reason for the severe water shortage in Delhi was poor management by the Delhi government, saying that 54% of the water produced remains unaccounted for and there are large water wastages during supply due to old and dilapidated pipelines.

Lessons from Singapore

In 2018, launching the Coronation Pillar sewage treatment plant (STP), Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that Delhi would emulate Singapore’s NEWater model to boost city water supply by 15-20%. Under the project, the government planned to pump highly treated and purified wastewater from the STP upstream to Palla.

“This clean water was to be dumped in Yamuna at Palla. The water would undergo dilution and natural purification along the course of the river and it was to be lifted for treatment at water treatment plants near Wazirabad,” a DJB official, requesting anonymity, said.

In phases, DJB planned to increase the quantum of water from 70mgd to 120mgd. However, for the first two years, the project remained pending with the Upper Yamuna River Board (UYRB), the official said. “It was finally approved in 2020 with many riders and the Coronation Pillar plant became operational in 2022, but the process to install another advanced treatment facility could not be executed,” the official said.

The treated wastewater from the Coronation Pillar facility, DJB’s most advanced STP, is currently proposed to be sent to Bhalswa lake and dry Jahangirpuri drain for groundwater recharge.

UYRB officials did not respond to calls and e mails sent by HT.

Increasing Yamuna share

Over the past five years, Delhi has been trying to increase its share of Yamuna water, by teaming up with Himachal Pradesh.

Delhi water minister Atishi on Tuesday, while announcing the water rationalisation measures in the city, briefly touched upon the water exchange project with Himachal. “We have signed an MoU with Himachal Pradesh to procure an additional 50mgd of water, but the proposal is pending with the UYRB, where Haryana has raised objections,” she said.

The river originates from Yamunotri glacier and flows through Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, with each getting a fixed share. The MoU between Delhi and Himachal Pradesh, signed on December 20, 2019, was for the usage of an unutilised share of Himachal Pradesh’s allocation by Delhi.

However, Haryana requested for conveyance of this additional water to Delhi through their canal system. “DJB has already proposed to set up a 50mgd WTP at Dwarka, in anticipation of additional water. The overall water availability potential of unitilised share of Himachal is 144mgd,” the official said, adding that objections from neighbouring states have held up the proposal.

Palla mega floodplain reservoir

In 2019, chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Union jal shakti minister Gajendra Shekhawat jointly launched a pilot project to create natural subsurface reservoirs on the Palla floodplains to conserve excess floodwater from Yamuna and extract this groundwater to feed the city in summer. The pilot was to be carried out on a 26-acre plot in Sangarpur near Palla before expanding it to 1,000 acres.

Palla floodplain extends along around 25km of the Yamuna north of Wazirabad, and contains aquifers that are perennial sources of drinking water for Delhi.

An official with the irrigation and flood control (I&FC) department said: “The project is designed to recharge the city’s groundwater table by harvesting floodwater digging shallow from the Yamuna during monsoon by increasing the percolation rate of groundwater. One to 1.5-metre-deep pits are dug to increase the percolation rate. Delhi witnesses around 18 flooding cycles when river water covers the Palla floodplains and estimated recharge potential is 37,800 MG water.”

An assessment report by the I&FC department said that the reservoir area was submerged for 14 days in 2019, 19 days in 2020, 24 days in 2021 and 30 days in 2023. “The average water table rise between the pre and post-monsoon period in 2021 was 0.5-2.5 metres, while the rise was 0.7-2m in 2022,” the report said.

However, after five rounds of the pilot near Sungarpur, the project hit a bureaucratic roadblock, officials said.

Getting neighbourly

In December 2020, a feasibility study by the UP irrigation department found there was a possibility of exchanging 270 cusecs of raw water from Murad Nagar regulator and DJB sought to expedite it with a targeted deadline of 2026. Under the 6,931 crore project, Delhi wants to exchange 140mgd treated wastewater in return for fresh water from neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

“This freshwater is currently being used for irrigation. We proposed to supply high quality treated wastewater which is fit for irrigation through Okhla while exchanging freshwater to the tune of 270 cusecs of water from Ganga from Murad Nagar regulator, but it got shelved at political level,” the DJB official said.

A DJB status report on its water augmentation plans states that the “proposal was turned down by minister, UP Irrigation, vide a letter dated July 9, 2021.”

In another proposal, according to the DJB report, 51 cusecs of currently allocated irrigation water to Delhi at Tajewala Barrage is to be exchanged in Haryana for additional drinking water. “Matter is being pursued with UYRB, likely to be completed by 2025,” the report said.

Dams in the long term

Even as projects to increase water availability remain stuck in the system, the city has primarily increased its water availability through the installation of borewells and tubewells. DJB currently pumps out more than 135 million gallons of water (13.5% of supply) to meet the city’s demand.

Meanwhile, Delhi is pursuing an early implementation of three dams (upstream storages) on Yamuna and its tributaries, namely Renukaji Dam, Lakhwar Dam and Kishau Dam. Delhi has paid 214.84 crore to Himachal Pradesh for the Renukaji Dam Project and has agreed to bear 90% of the cost of the power component in the project. Delhi has also contributed seed money for Lakhwar and Kishau projects.

“These are long term projects which are not likely to be completed anytime before 2030,” the official added.

‘Control demand’

Diwan Singh, water expert and environmental activist who organised the Yamuna Satyagrah for rejuvenating the river and other water bodies in the city, said none of these proposed solutions have been able to significantly help.

“The city is expanding and demand-supply gap is rising further. Earlier, the houses were two storeyed; then we allowed them to go up to four floors and more proposals like land-pooling are made. Where is water to feed this expanding city? We have to control the demand level,” he said.

Singh said that the city will now have to focus on using potable water only for drinking. “There is enough wastewater not being used for non-drinking purposes. The problem needs to be solved at the planning level,” he said.

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